Top trainers in pro sports tell you how to build muscle, lose fat and avoid injury.

You may not get paId megabucks to run around a field for 80 minutes, but you can still use the wisdom of the smartest trainers in the business. Men’s Fitness spoke to some top coaches in Australia and the US, from rugby league to boxing, and got their best tips for weekend warriors. Whether you’re signed up for a charity fun run, a company sports day or something more serious, these tips will give you an edge on the competition.

01 Work Your Core

“A good core stability program will improve your performance in almost anything and dramatically reduce your risk of injury,” says Grant Giles, a top triathlon coach and trainer of Tim Berkel, Copenhagen IronMan winner. “In the triathlon it’s three sports that require great core stability. We even have really elite triathletes who come in with core strength issues.” Grant uses a Swiss Ball with his athletes and also recommends bridges and single-leg squats.

02  Don’t Cross Wires

“People try to do everything at once. They want to tone; they want to gain weight; they want to get fitter, and they constantly fatigue their energy systems,” says Donny Singe, Manly Sea Eagles strength and conditioning coach and owner of don.fitnessplatform.com.   “Save cardio for cardio days and weights for weights days and you’ll get the most out of both.”

03   No Carbs at Night

“Avoiding carbohydrates at dinner is an age-old weight-loss method that fighters have used for years,” says legendary boxing trainer Johnny Lewis. “I think most blokes eat too many carbs. If you can eat early and finish a meal by 6pm and not eat again until breakfast, it’s certainly going to work for you,” he says.

04  Change Your Warm-Up

“If you’re in the gym twice a week, you need to be stretching 4 times a week,” says John Whitesides, head strength and conditioning coach for the NHL’s Boston Bruins. “If you have tight hips, it’s gonna be hard to shuffle laterally and pivot.”  The fix: try using a foam roller on your legs, hips and glutes for a few minutes before you lift. It’ll break up scar tissue in your muscles and leave you fresh and ready to train.

05  Get Off Your Ass!

Lift while standing, when the move allows. “Mimic the environment of the athlete,” says Jeff Cavaliere, trainer to the New York Mets and founder of the AthLEAN-X training system. Seated dumbbell overhead presses do you no good on the field of play. “You’ve just trained yourself to move in a very specific and isolated manner, not how you move in real life,” he says.

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06  Shake Things Up

Trying a variety of approaches is the key to great results, according to Lewis. “If you usually do 5km runs, try doing some sprints. If 3 sets of 8 is what you’ve always done in the weights room, go heavier and try 5 sets of 5. Your body will be forced to adapt and you’ll be faster and stronger next time.”

 

07  Go Big First

“Always do complex exercises first,” says Bryan Doo, strength and conditioning coach for the NBA’s Boston Celtics. “Hit your major muscles, then the minor ones.” That means squats, deadlifts and cleans should always come before any kind of curl or extension.

08  Train as you Play

Focus on exercises that let you move through space in a purposeful way. Set up for a cable crossover with one handle high and one low. Perform the movement one arm at a time, rotating your torso with your arm as you go. “We’re trying to get the body to move in the patterns it instinctively follows, but with more power and precision,” Cavaliere says.

09 Forget Numbers

“If you could tell me how bench-pressing 400 pounds [180kg] can translate to being better in your intramural basketball league,” Whitesides says, “I’d love to hear it.” Focus on lifting a weight that allows you to use good form throughout the set. “If you can’t do 3 sets of 20 reps of push-ups, you’re notready to bench.”

10  Go for the Long Haul

Don’t do anything that you can’t keep up, day in and day out, for several months. Giles says that picking a doable program and sticking with it for months is key, even for professional triathletes. “In the end, even if you’ve done less than you thought you would have at the start, you haven’t done a hard session and had to spend 3 days on your backside recovering from it.”

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11  Be Eccentric

Don’t ignore the eccentric (or lowering) portion of any lift to emphasise the concentric (lifting) phase. “Guys want to run fast,” Doo says. “That’s great if you have a Porsche engine, but you don’t want to have Hyundai brakes.” To get better at stopping and starting, the next time you do step-ups, take 4-5secs to lower your leg down to the ground during each rep. If you can’t move slowly enough, hold a medicine ball out in front of your chest to counterbalance your weight. “Even if you just do it once a week, the benefits will be huge,” he says.

12 Buddy Up (And Kick Butt)

Grab a mate and compete against each other to see who can do more reps or taps, etc.  For most guys, their competitive nature will push them to exceed what they would do on their own.

13 Do Hill Walking

Hill walking is Singe’s secret weapon. Don’t think that just because it’s walking it’s easy – Singe has his guys doing repeat sets up and down steep hills, pounding their legs, core and lungs. “Intense walking in blocks of 800m does the trick. There’s no fear of lower back pain and no hip or calf injuries,” says the man behind the 2008 NRL premiers.

14 Focus on Balance

One side or portion of your body is often stronger than the other. That can cause your other muscle groups to work harder in an attempt to balance you out – this can possibly lead to injuries and weaknesses. “Unilateral training will help you overcome imbalances,” Cavaliere says. Try one-legged squats or presses with dumbbells working one arm at a time.

15 Work Your Way Up

Ease your way into hardcore training. Each time you hit the gym or the track or the pool, train a little bit longer or lift a little more weight. “That’s the true secret to improved fitness and overall athleticism,” says NFL strength coach Steve Watterson.

Related: 10 strength-building strategies that will never die